08/19/2013 08:19 am ET

Spouse's Chronic Pain Could Hurt Partner's Sleep


Your spouse's chronic pain could be affecting how well you sleep at night, according to a small new study.

Published in the journal PAIN, the new research shows that spouses are more likely to report having bad sleep and feeling unrefreshed in the morning if their partners had a lot of knee pain at the end of the previous day.

Plus, researchers found an association between the closeness of the spousal relationship, and a spouse's reporting of poor sleep in response to the other person's knee pain.

"Our findings suggest that assessing the extent to which partners are closely involved in each other's lives would help to identify spouses who are especially at risk for being affected by patient symptoms and in need of strategies for maintaining their own health and well-being," study researcher Lynn M. Martire, Ph.D., of Penn State University, said in a statement.

The study included 145 couples ages 50 and older, where one person in the couple had diagnosed knee osteoarthritis, who were tracked for 22 consecutive nights. The couples kept logs of pain levels, sleep quality and feelings of being refreshed.

"Compromised sleep caused by exposure to a loved one's suffering may be one pathway to spousal caregivers' increased risk for health problems, including cardiovascular disease," Martire said in the statement. "In developing behavioral couple-oriented interventions for arthritis, it is important to identify the couples in which the spouse is most affected by patient suffering."

Sleep problems aren't just a problem for the spouse of a person with chronic pain -- research shows that the victim often suffers from bad sleep too. WebMD reported that as many as 50 to 90 percent of people with chronic pain have bad sleep. And sleep is more likely to be disturbed when pain isn't consistent.

"If you have constant pain for six months, you figure out how to cope with it. But if the pain level goes up and down, if it's unpredictable, you can't get used to it and it can really interfere with sleep," sleep and pain expert Gilles Lavigne, of the University of Montreal, told WebMD.



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